Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Games that Define Us

I was reading AHunt's blog today (http://ahunt-dulceetdecorum.blogspot.com/2012/06/games-that-define-us.html) in which he talked about games that define us. That of course got me to thinking about the games that have shaped me over the years. These are certainly not all the games that I have played over the years, but they are the games that heavily influenced my personal interests and have moved me in directions that I would never have expected. I don't have a lot of pretty pictures to insert so (at least for now) you will have to use your imaginations to visualize box covers (Okay, now I have found cover shots of all the games, although I couldn't find a picture of the 1st edition Civilization game and had to use the AH version). I also realize that some of these games really date me.
And here is a link to the blog that started it off: Frontline Gamer

First up; Gettysburg by Avalon Hill
At this time I lived in Murray KY, a small college town in western Kentucky. If you watch college basketball during March Madness, this is the town were the Racers come from. My dad bought this for my birthday and I think regretted it ever since as it was definitely my gateway drug into this hobby. I still have my copy of this game. It also introduced me into the world of military simulation games and I would read that catalog over and over and wondering where I would ever even see a store that carried the likes of Panzer Leader and Luftwaffe.

Two; Dungeons & Dragons by TSR
By this point and sometime in 1975 or 76 after we moved to Boulder CO I found an article in the local paper (the Daily Camera, still in publication) about this new type of game being played by students at the University of Colorado. I found a copy of it at Three Wishes Toy store which actually carried games. For the next several years all my games came from there. I toyed with it until I found some new friends when I changed schools (we moved from the north end of town to the south end of town) and that was all she wrote. I still play every other week.

Three; Squad Leader by Avalon Hill
I was torn at this point because I loved Tobruk which was released in '76 but when Squad Leader was released in '77 that was pretty much it for Tobruk. My friends and I played constantly and typically would alternate between D&D and Squad Leader all the way through high school. I have all the supplements published for Squad Leader and I have some stuff for Advanced Squad Leader, but I lost heart with ASL pretty quickly. I think I had to choose between two complicated systesm, ASL and Star Fleet Battles and SFB won out in the end, probably because miniatures had loomed on the horizon for my historical gaming needs.

Four; Traveller by GDW
I know you were expecting different game here but '77 was a watershed year for the gaming industry and Traveller burst on the scene and we quickly gravitated to that and soon we were alternating between fantasy, history and science fiction games. We played lots of other boardgames during this period but these were the three dominate games other than Fight in the Skies by TSR (originally by Guidon Games). We played this at the high school club because it was quick and we could get 2-3 games in before they kicked us out.

Five; Tractics by TSR
Squad Leader kind of drove us to this in about 1978. We all had built 1/35th scale tanks at one time or another and we played Tractics with these for a while (scaling ranges up appropriately) this lead us to the discovery of Micro Armor from GHQ and we played many games of Tractics using micro armor. We played enough that we no longer even need to consult most of the charts. Our Tractics days went on for a long time as we meet other groups that played when the area's first game convention started up, Genghis Con in 1979 (and still going strong today).

Six; Fire and Steel and System 7 by GDW
We had toyed with Napoleonics a bit at this point but the investment in miniatures was a bit much for us back then. System 7 changed all of that and soon we were playing made up possible engagements and then even researching historical engagements and trying to play them out. This, of course, lead us directly to fully embrace tabletop gaming.

Seven; Empire Builder (1980) by Mayfair Games
I had always played and enjoyed Rail Baron by Avalon Hill, but it lacked something and seemed more akin to Monopoly. Empire Builder changed all that and I really love and still love what has become known as train gaming. In fact this would lead my wife and I (now ex-wife) to form the TGA (Train Gamers Association) in the late '80s.

Eight; Civilization by Francis Tresham
I heard about this game in the then new magazine Adventure Gaming (and long since defunct). I was at the Origins held in San Francisco that year and saw the game up close and personal. When I got home I managed to convince the owner of the FLGS to import some copies in and soon it was mine and expensive though $30! A lot of money at the time. Eventually AH would buy the rights to produce it in the US and it became another favorite game for many years. Its interesting to note that this game started off as a boardgame, then became an award winning series of computer games (now up to CIV V) and has since managed to spin off two more boardgames. For me the original is still the best.

Nine; Johnny Reb by Adventure Games (John Hill)
Adventure Games produced four games right off the bat, but Johnny Reb was by far their best. We tried it because we were interested in the period and how could you go wrong with a set of rules written by the designer of Squad Leader? Although they have long since been supplanted for me, this was a great set of rules that opened up yet another period of history for us and one that didn't require massive uniform research!

Ten; 1830 by Avalon Hill (Alan Moon)
1830 was Avalon Hill's attempt to use Francis Tresham's system for 1829 to simulate the robber baron railroad period in the US in the Northeast. In the end it became a very different game in some ways from 1829 and was more generally available to US gamers. Personally I prefer this style of what is now known as the 18xx system. The number of home published games that these have spawned off is truly amazing and the yahoo group is still very active. In fact during the heyday of the TGA by ex-father-in-law and I developed two self published 18xx games; 1869 the Golden Spike, and 18GM (GM for game master) which created kind of a generic 18xx game without a specific setting. The idea was to create something like a kit that you could use to help create your own 18xx variation or as an actual game on its own. I really like 18GM since every game is different and you get to decide what 18xx rules you want to use.

Now I couldn't stop at ten so I went to twelve with this, mainly because these are games that had a heavy influence on what I do today.

Eleven; Napoleon's Battles by Avalon Hill
This was the big break through game for us in table top miniatures and we were quickly re-basing our many units to play. Despite hundreds of Napoleonic rules that have been published since then, this is the game we still come back to play.

Twelve; Fire and Fury by Rich Hasenauer
For the ACW this was it for us and I have played Fire and Fury ever since it was introduced in 1990. No other system has been able to replace its simple mechanics which have lead to many great games being played over the years. This is another one that I keep coming back to time after time. It has also greatly influenced the other tabletop rule sets that I enjoy.

I have played and owned a lot of games over the years. But these are the games that shaped what I did after them. I find the list of publishers a little interesting as well; TSR, GDW and AH definitely dominate the scene. These also directly lead to my involvement with the Denver Gamers Association (DGA) and the local convention scene. In fact I managed Genghis Con from Genghis Con IX through Genghis Con XXI as well as Tacticon '89 through Taction '2000. I married a gaming girl (very, very rare) back then and since her father did the game auctions I ended up doing them starting with Genghis Con V, that's an aspect of the hobby that I really enjoy and I have been able to be an auctioneer for a number of other conventions other than my own. We also helped found the TGA with Darwin Bromley in '87 or '88 and published the TGA newsletter for a number of years (and each issue had a train game variant in it), through this I meet a lot of game designers like Alan Moon and Reiner Knizia. Johnny Reb lead me to Dave Bab and Stone Mountain Miniatures and I designed and sculpted Stone Mountain's award winning ACW building line (that's one of my truly treasured plaques from over the years). Although I'm not as active in the hobby as I was and have moved more towards the painting aspect of it that lead me over to Reaper Games and some really good friendships there.

So that's it, the twelve games that not only affected my gaming preferences but my life in general and it all started with a $5 game for my birthday from my father.

 Thanks Dad!


  1. Some of those I played as well but more the later stuff.....

  2. That's a great list Kris. I honestly haven't played a single one of those games. I love that there is so much room in this hobby for people to come together from such different backgrounds.

    1. I thought your's was a pretty darn good list too. I think I have played everything on your list at one time or another. Just different games have different influences and you are right, its the diversity that really makes it so interesting. I'm hoping to see a few more lists out there.

  3. For me, the gateway game was Blitzkrieg (Winter, '73 -- next year will be 40 years, eek!!). I was pulled into a game by new friends in Cheyenne (we had just moved there after my dad did a year remote in Thailand). I bought my copy in a Hallmark store in downtown Cheyenne. That style of grand strategic game is still probably my favorite, though the itch is currently being scratched more by Civ V than by boardgames.

    At the time, my Junior High was on split shifts, so I generally got home from school right after noon. We used to play something nearly every afternoon. While Blitzkrieg was the start of the addiction, we probably played more Panzer Blitz/Panzer Leader and Richthofen's War. Better games that were faster to set up and that could be finished in a day.

    That fall we visited my grandparents in Mesa, AZ and I convinced my parents to take me to a hobby store that carried games, where I picked up my first SPI games, the best of which was probably Sniper. Simultaneous movement, sub-tactical gaming that was remarkably innovative for its time.

    After seeing that SPI was a legitimate game company, I paid more attention to the ads that they used to run in the backs of quite a few different magazines. I saved my money and bought a subscription to Strategy and Tactics. The first game that I got was Wolfpack, which really wasn't much good. But the second game was Sixth Fleet, a brilliant modern sim that was worth many replays.

    Moderns plus tanks brought us to Mech War '77, another game that we played many times.

    It wasn't until we moved back to Germany in '76 that I got into roleplaying (white box D&D). I overheard two other students talking about a new wargame in class and got a chance to try it at a Rhein Confederation Wargames Society meeting a week or so later. RCWGS was supported by MWR money and had travelling meetings at bases and posts all over central West Germany. Not only were they my first exposure to roleplaying, but the group was originally a miniatures group, so it was also my first exposure to miniatures gaming.

    D&D was a bit of an obsession for quite a while, but Runequest and Champions became my real roleplaying homes. Models that met my need for complexity and realism (or "realism") and games that rewarded the kind of obsession that only a teenager can lavish on recreation.

    Like Kris, gaming shaped quite a lot of my life. I met my wife through LARPing, stumbled into a job as editor of the Games Quarterly Catalog because of gaming, which led to a job as a tech writer and my current job as a tech writing supervisor and photographer.

    1. Blitzkrieg is one of those games I own but have never actually played. Probably because by the time I was anywhere that had games to sell I had moved on to Panzer Blitz and its ilk.

  4. I'm going to be honest and say that most of those games will have passed me by. Although I distinctly remember some of the Avalon Hill stuff kicking around my family home, with my dad being a big historical wargamer. Thanks for the read. It's always interesting for me to see what games have shaped people in the hobby and why.


  5. Awesome post! What a Nostalgic feeling thinking and some of that games! Thanks and Regards